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It’s not too often that Togo makes the international news – when we qualified for the World Cup – last year’s riots and political turmoil – now a French press agency has picked up on the story of a newspaper editor who recently became a voodoo priest.  Click here to read the story about Togo’s High Priest Heviosso of voodoo and the tabloid press.

The article paints a pretty rosy picture of voodoo.  The editor/priest declares, "Voodoo does no harm. It protects you if you are honest and sincere. It hates treason and lies.”  Yeah, right. 

Just back up a few paragraphs.  This man was apparently chosen to be a voodoo priest by an oracle in Vogan, a town between Tabligbo and Lomé, about 45 minutes drive from where we live.  Though the article doesn’t say, the oracle was probably a “bokono,” a traditional diviner who gets messages by consulting a power known as “Afa” (just “Fa” in Benin).

The editor-turned-priest recounts how he came into his new role:  "One day, I heard that the oracles of Vogan had designated me as a voodoo high priest. For a while I did not want to do this, because my wife is a pastor in her church", he says.

"But in the end I accepted, mainly because of all the misfortunes that befell my family during the time that I was dithering."

Whoa…  “All the misfortunes” are obviously being attributed to his hesitancy to take up the role prescribed for him by the diviner.  But I thought that “Voodoo does no harm.”  Maybe it does no harm as long as one submits to its rules, regulations, sacrifices, initiations, and ceremonies.  This article reveals the primary power that voodoo has over people—the power of fear.  This man gave into the pressure to become a voodoo priest because he was afraid that the misfortunes would continue if he did not.

I’m not saying that the “misfortunes” that befell this man and his family were sheer accident.   He’s probably right.  They may well have been caused by his “dithering.”   

“Dithering” is something that we humans are prone to.  Joshua basically told the Israelites to “stop dithering”—“But if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).  Years later, Elijah challenged those people’s descendants:  “How long are you going to waver between two opinions?  If the Lord is God, follow him!  But if Baal is God, then follow him!” (1 Kings 18:31). 

Even those of us who think we’ve got our minds made up about the true God can be just as guilty of dithering.  That seems to have been the problem in Laodicea—the one church that Jesus had nothing good to say about in Revelation.  He told them, “I know all the things you do, that you are neither hot nor cold.  I wish you were one or the other!  But since you are like lukewarm water, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:15).

It seems that ditherers don’t fare well with God, either.  He calls for commitment. 

So does that mean that we are motivated by the same kind of fear that moved this voodoo priest to finally make a commitment?  I think there are some important differences, not the least of which is that the one to whom we are committed, because He is eternal and holy, is the only one who is worthy of our absolute allegiance.  Another difference is that God does allow us the freedom to not choose him.  Of course he is offended by those who alienate themselves from him.  And those people risk being alienated from him eternally.  But what offends him the most is those who claim to have chosen him, yet by their actions show that they are dithering—their choice is not whole hearted.

The existentialists were right when they said that we give meaning to our lives through commitment.  What they didn’t see is that whether that meaning is valid depends entirely on the object of our commitment.  Are we committed to what is wholly good, pure, eternal and true, or are we committed to gods or goods that seduce with quick-fixes and temporary solutions?

As for me and my house …

 

Like everywhere else in the world, we’ve watched fuel prices climb pretty steadily in Togo over the past few years.  Putting off the inevitable pinch, I had not put any fuel in our car since we returned from Ghana almost two weeks ago.  Yesterday I pulled into the local Total station with each of our Toyota Prado’s two tanks less than ¼ full.  I didn’t even want to think about filling both tanks, but I didn’t set a limit as the attendants at the station began pumping.  (There’s no such thing as self-service here, although there was one station in Benin where they would let me pump my own.)  I had them stop the pumping at 40,000 francs (about $75).  I had not even completely filled one of the tanks.

As the numbers on the new gas pumps clicked rapidly away, I noticed that the service station attendants were laughing among themselves.  I soon discovered what they were laughing about – they were just amused that, in a matter of seconds, I had spent more on diesel fuel than they made in an entire month!  I was humbled and even a little embarrassed by this fact.  These guys are not bums.  They have to be fairly well educated and are probably looked at by others as having good jobs, just by virtue of the fact that they have a steady income.  They speak at least two, but probably three or more languages.  But within less than a minute, I had spent what was to them a lot of money on fuel which, if I am lucky, will last until we sell our car in a week or so.

I’m not real sure what I’m getting at here.  We need our cars for our lives and ministries, or so we tell ourselves.  Even if I gave my car to the local brethren instead of selling it before I leave, it would be absolutely useless to them.  There is no way they could pay to operate it, much less maintain it.  But it does make me wonder why our needs are so much greater than theirs.

It also reminds me to reflect a little before I complain about paying for luxuries.  Thanks to generous supporters, I can put fuel in the car.  And if I couldn’t, like the Africans, I would find another way to live.

Maybe what I am learning is that I need to be more intentional about my lifestyle.  I have no idea what resources I will have to live on in the States.  I’m not even sure what I’m going to do for a long-term job, though I’m confident that God will provide.  When he does, it may be a little, or it may be a lot.  If it’s a little, maybe the choices will be easier.  If it is more, then I’ll need to think hard about what is needed and what is truly useful—what helps and what hinders living a full life.  And never forget those who will never have a credit card to swipe as they wince and push the “Fill” button at the gas pump.

 

We returned home last night after a ten-day trip to Ghana. Even though most of our stuff is gone and the house is pretty bare, it is still good to be home. In my case, it’s just for a few hours as I leave tonight for a six day trip. Please pray for Maureen and the boys while I’m away, safety in my travel, and that God will continue to work to reveal his will for our family.

We left last Thursday and drove over to Kumasi, Ghana. Our drive took us through some beautiful, hilly areas that we have not been through before. In Kumasi, we stayed with the Obengs and visited and said goodbye to several of Maureen’s friends from her days as a nurse there before we were married.

From Kumasi, we traveled down to Accra, Ghana’s capital and largest city. As we approached Accra, we were happy to see that the highway leading into the city had been widened to four lanes – but then got quite a fright when we realized that traffic was traveling in both directions on both sides of the median! We spent a few days hanging out and eating out with our teammates in Accra, just to have some focused time together before our departure.

From Accra, we went to Elmina and Coconut Grove resort for our annual West Africa Missionary Conference. This year we officially combined the retreat with missionaries from the Christian church (we’ve been visiting one another’s retreats for the past few years). It was a great and refreshing time of fellowship.

I’ve posted a few pictures below. Click here to see a larger version of the group photo from the retreat.

Sunrise at Coconut Grove. That’s why they call it a RETREAT! What a restful and refreshing experience during a very hectic and stressful phase of life. Posted by Picasa

Old friends and new. Jeremy (right) with old friend Stephen Crowson (left) and new friend Drew Jones, an MK from Ivory Coast. Posted by Picasa

Our family at the 2006 West Africa Missionary Retreat at Coconut Grove, Elmina, Ghana. Posted by Picasa

Samuel and Comfort Obeng, also in Kumasi. Brother Obeng has been the visionary leader behind many good works in Ghana. Maureen lived next door to the in the Obengs when she was a nurse in Ghana. We stayed in their guest house on this trip. Posted by Picasa

Gabriel and Afia Opong in Kumasi, Ghana. Gabriel is an elder and preaches for the Bomso church in Kumasi. Afia and Maureen were good friends when Maureen lived in Kumasi. Since then, Afia has taken classes and now speaks English! Posted by Picasa

The daring young man … Jonathan shows off his trapeze skills. Posted by Picasa

Let me start by apologizing for my hiatus from blogging and thanking those of you who keep checking this page without finding anything new of interest.  I’ve been overwhelmed by the incredible pace of change in my life right now, and equally overwhelmed by the knowledge that this pace of change probably won’t slow down anytime soon.  This has been a great time of faith-stretching, and I’d like to share with you a couple of ways that I’ve seen God work directly in my life lately.

This past Tuesday we packed and sent off a shipping container with our personal belongings that we wanted to bring back to the States.  We found that we had quite a lot that we want to keep—books, pictures, and furniture.  We’ve had a good bit of furniture built here in West Africa.  Not only is it 100% hardwood, which we’re told is almost impossible to find in the States, but we also think that having some things from our African home in whatever new home we end up in will give a healthy feeling of continuity between our present lives and what they will become.

We were sharing the container with two other families who are also leaving West Africa.  When we began to look at what they were wanting to bring back and what we wanted to bring back, it became very difficult to see how it was all going to fit into the forty-foot container that we had reserved.  We kept packing, and kept finding more stuff we wanted to keep.  At the same time, we began to think about the things that we would leave behind if all did not fit.  We became increasingly certain that we would be making those tough choices, praying—perhaps with little faith—that we would not have to.

The morning that the container arrived in Tabligbo, I was shocked when I saw how big it appeared to be.  When I read the measurements that were posted on the outside of the container, I saw that it was over a foot taller than what we had expected.  To make a long story short, there was plenty of room for everyone’s belongings.  We heaved a tremendous sigh of relief.

I’m writing this post from Accra, Ghana, and we’ve traveled hundreds of miles over the past few days.  We have passed many shipping containers riding on the backs of trucks.  I am convinced that none of them were as tall as the one God provided for us.  Our transit agent told us that it was a brand new container; that this was probably only its second voyage.  It seems there is a new size for shipping containers, and we got a big one.   I believe that God cared about something as “worldly” as shipping our goods and provided just what we needed.

I’ve been going through another saga trying to arrange plane tickets for a whirlwind trip to the States.  I needed to make a trip back to check out a ministry opportunity (and to be checked out), but there didn’t seem to be the means.  Then last Saturday, my teammate Jeff Holland told me that he had won a free ticket to Paris at the horse club where his wife Brenda rides.  They were not going to be able to use it, and offered it to me if I could.  This past Monday, I spoke with some folks in the States and they invited me to come over, using the free ticket to get as far as Paris.  It would be a quick trip—less than a week.  That would allow me to maximize my time with my family, and to not miss any of our Sundays of saying goodbye to the different churches here.

So I began investigating possibilities for getting to the States.  I found out that any ticket that is good for less than a one-week stay is incredibly expensive.  But I called SIAMA, a missions travel agency based in the Netherlands, and found that they could issue a ticket with no minimum stay.  They were able to get me a good price.

I had already been trying to get the Togo to Paris ticket issued.  I called the airline and made reservations for the dates we had discussed.   Because we had been packing our container on Tuesday, I could not go down to the airline office that day to claim my free ticket.  The following day, all businesses, schools, and offices were closed in the morning, because of the total eclipse of the sun that was seen in our part of the world.  So Wednesday afternoon, I made the one and a half hour drive down to Lome.  My reservation was in the computer.  All I had to do was pay the taxes and fees and the ticket – wait – the ticket could not be issued because the airline was at the end of their fiscal year and couldn’t issue a new ticket until April 1—three days later.  But by then (now), I would be in Ghana  But really it couldn’t be done until April 3, since the 1st was a Saturday.  But there would be NO PROBLEM, I was assured.  They could even email me the e-ticket. 

But we are in Africa.  And I, an experienced African missionary, know that things can never be as simple as that.  I assumed that by Monday or Tuesday, I would be trying to get through from on the phones from Ghana to Togo, desperately trying to get them to issue my ticket.

Boy, was I wrong.

Our travel plans put me through a 48+-hour internet blackout.  This was one of the best things for me in a long time, because there was nothing I could do about the situation but to pray—which I did a lot of—and to trust—which I’m still learning to do.  My stress levels, I must admit, have been running pretty high all week.

When I arrived here in Accra today and checked my email, I saw the confirmation, as I had expected, of my flight from Paris to the States.  But then as I scrolled through my email, I was astounded to see that my Togo-Paris ticket had also been issued – 2 days ago – well before April 1.  I checked all the details and everything lined up just right.

I heaved a great sigh of relief and basked in the knowledge that God truly is amazing and does amazing things for his kids.  I know my travel plans are miniscule compared to the problems that many people—even some of you who are reading this—are facing.  But God reminded me that he cares for me, and I know that he cares for you too.

For another story of God’s amazing grace and mercy and eagerness to act on behalf of his children, I encourage you to read Christine Crowson’s post on their family’s Audience of One blog site, as they family goes through the enormously complicated process of adopting a child from China.